The knock on my door came on a Saturday morning in mid November, just after 9:00AM. It caught me unawares, still in my pajamas after a long, all-night of work.
The government agent standing before me was intimidating just by his look alone — military-grade flak jacket vest, last name stenciled in block letters, combat boots, military style cap, cammies with devices dangling from its various pockets and lanyards, and matching camo watchband. And the law enforcement-grade body camera.
I paid my taxes in full so I surmised it wasn’t the IRS. I wasn’t laundering drug money through offshore banks, so it couldn’t be the U.S. Postal Police. And I’m on pretty good terms ( I hope) with my local sheriff’s department, so it wasn’t a real deputy.
But something was off, and my radar was up and running.
The surreal conversation went something like this: “So how can I help, Officer?”
“Your dog, Markus, was seen running off leash…..but I have no video of that, so you are off the hook. BUT, his tag expired last year and I gotta to cite you.”
What!!!?? Say again??? My dog is never off leash. So I’m thinking… “Just send me a notice and I’ll gladly sort it out; I’m a big fan of the local shelter and go out of my way to tend to my service dog’s health,” I tell our Spec Ops wannabe.
My dog is a service dog. I was partially but thankfully only temporarily paralyzed from a bad case of spinal meningitis. Markus, my dog, saved my life by alerting my caregiver when I collapsed on my floor. But this was not good enough for our dog license enforcer official.
“He’s no service dog… he’s emotional support animal,” the animal control officer says. “Here’s your ‘fix it’ ticket, take care of this and there’s no fine.”
I tried to get a “administrative hearing,” but COVID not only shut down the shelter, the attempt to get a hearing also failed, and my vet who rendered the vaccines shut down their offices because of the virus, so I couldn’t access my proof of a rabies booster. And this was right in the middle of the Thanksgiving holiday.
I found out later I had only 10 calendar days to perform. Or else…
The hammer fell 14 days later: A demand letter for $200 arrived. By mid December, it was up to $300. Plus the $50 for the license renewal and proof of rabies, which was strange. I had to show proof of rabies vaccinations years ago to get my original tag.
Fortunately, I’m blessed. But what if I was a senior on a fixed income? A $300 dog tag fine can significantly impact your bottom line.
I paid the $50, and uploaded with great hassle, the vaccination record of my dog to a 3rd party agency. But this still was not good enough. Now I’m being threatened with collection agency actions. And who knows what else.
I’m going to fight this. And in the interim, I spirited my boy to a secret, out of state location, just in case of the event that Dog Catcher Team 6 comes after Markus.
What a shame, because “no kill” shelters are amazing places, and the folks who work at them are passionate, dedicated people.
But to militarize the animal control folks, having them rap on citizens’ doors on weekend mornings with a pretext to collect overdue “fees?”
Not bueno! I’m hoping, in fact I’m praying, this is not a prologue nor a blueprint of local governments going on an aggressive hunt for fees as Covid takes it toll on their revenues.
My suggestion to our friends in city leadership is clear and concise: sending an animal control officer who’s a cross between a Ghostbuster and a combat-trained Marine to fine you for expired animal registrations in the middle of a pandemic sends a bad message to your constituents. But then again, if you find King Kong romping around the high school soccer field, by all means lock and load. And I’ve got just the guy for you.
Oh , and please help me liberate Markus – he’s been fully vaccinated and his license is bought and paid for. Call San Clemente City Hall @949-361-8322 so I can bring my boy home.
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